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LEGISLATURE MUST FIND WAY TO LIMIT THE NUMBER OF BILLS

SHARE LEGISLATURE MUST FIND WAY TO LIMIT THE NUMBER OF BILLS

Although the Utah Legislature is considered a conservative body, its members apparently - based on the number of bills they are filing - do not subscribe to the belief that less government is the best government.

With about a month still to go before the 1990 legislative session begins, Utah lawmakers have already filed more than 640 new bills, some 50 percent more than at the same time a year ago.In addition, more than 400 studies are being conducted by legislative staff and some 100 study committees are looking at other measures.

This avalanche of bills could overwhelm the system, slowing the legislative process to a crawl and making it nearly impossible to deal with truly vital issues, especially since the session only lasts 45 calendar days.

A majority of the bills deal with less-than-weighty issues and frequently are introduced merely to satisfy the requests of a few constituents, even though they have no chance of serious consideration, let alone being passed.

Yet even the most frivolous of bills takes up time and effort of the legislative staff and lawmakers, often at the expense of more significant and serious issues.

Legislative leaders agree that something must be done, although not all lawmakers are of the same opinion. Some would object to anything that might infringe on their introduction of bills.

One method would be to double the size of the legislative staff that researches and drafts bills at the request of the lawmakers. However, that approach does not have strong support and does not deserve it.

Another proposal would have interim legislative committees meet twice a month during the year instead of once a month. But the Utah Legislature is a part-time body whose members often serve at considerable sacrifice. That burden should not be significantly increased. Anything that would push the Legislature toward becoming a full-time institution should be stoutly resisted.

The most appealing idea would be to limit legislators in the number of bills they could introduce. One suggestion is to confine House members to a maximum of five bills and Senate members to 12 bills.

Clearly, there are legal and constitutional concerns about this kind of rule. Would it be an infringement of free speech? Would it affect the right of voters to be represented by a legislator? Those are serious questions that already have been raised by some lawmakers.

Yet limiting the number of bills a legislator can introduce is not a radical or unkown practice; several states do it. Neighboring Colorado, for example, limits each lawmaker to six pieces of legislation. If it works there, why not in Utah.

It's possible such a rule might be challenged in the courts, but if that is what it takes to resolve the issue, so be it. Utah simply cannot continue to expand the number of bills introduced in a Legislature that has a limited amount of time in a session.